Iceland Calling

by Carolyn Shea

Iceland, home to the ancient Vikings, beckoned Aaron Krogh from an early age. First, when he was in the fifth grade and read an article about the tiny volcanic island-nation at the edge of the Arctic Circle. “Ever since then, I wanted to go,” he says.

floating ice

When Krogh was a bit older, his uncle sent him an album by the country’s most famous cultural export, Björk, and he became hooked on her music and even more curious about “the land of fire and ice.”

Then, when he came to Evergreen, his roommate turned out to have grown up between Seattle and Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital.

Last year, the Evergreen senior got his chance to reach his desired destination, after enrolling in Stephanie Kozick’s City Life program, which examined the urban experience from a variety of different angles. Academic work done by the class in the fall and spring quarters led to field study in the spring, with each student selecting one city—anywhere in the world—to visit and research. Krogh’s choice? Reykjavík, of course.

For six weeks, he lived with the family of his roommate, the son of Villi Knudsen, a cinematographer well known in Iceland for capturing historic volcanic eruptions on film. Tourists from around the world flock to Knudsen’s small home theatre, a Reykjavík attraction called Red Rock Cinema, to watch daily screenings of his dramatic footage in The Volcano Show. One day while Krogh was there, a woman from his hometown of Mason City, Iowa, came to see Knudsen’s presentation.

Iceland geyser

Iceland, where Aaron Krogh pursued his City Life project, has been called the Land of Frost and Fire. A volcanic region mantled with perpetual snows, it is the birthplace of the word geyser.

Krogh kept an extensive journal during his stay, which was mainly focused on the city, but included forays into the countryside. Smaller than Kentucky, Iceland offers an array of extraordinary landscapes that aren’t too far afield: fjords and glaciated valleys, lava fields and icefields, spouting geysers and volcanic craters. Many of these sights pop up in the short film Krogh produced during his trip, which includes an electronic music soundtrack and a number of interviews that thematically guide the piece. It moves from inside the Knudsen house to the city around and the shipyards beyond; then branches out into the more distant environment.

The 25-minute piece was a selection of the Olympia Film Society’s What You Got?! youth arts festival at the Capitol Theater last June. This annual weekend event provides a space for young people to showcase their creativity at the local level through music, film, spoken word, and visual art, with the idea, coordinated by Evergreen alumnus Brendan Phillips ’07, to create a permanent youth art space in Olympia.

In making the film, Krogh says, “I started out by looking at how landscapes and where people live form their sense of place and how they make it their own. It ended up being a medium for my own personal journey, an expression of my experience of place.” With its sequence of stream-of-consciousness imagery, it reveals in a very realistic way the process by which, as Krogh says, “you come into a place new, figure out your place in the order of things, and orient yourself.” It also allowed him to integrate a particular passion of his: working with sound.

Reykjavik - village

Krogh stayed in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and cultural center. Its brightly colored buildings give the city a storybook quality.

Krogh found Iceland to be “very windy,” freer of rules and regulations than the United States, and “a lot more relaxed.” The people, however, “are more formal in their relationships.” He loved the bakeries he frequented— “amazing pastries and cheap!”— but found the beer pricey, at $7 to $9 a pint. He also loved the geothermal bathing pools, which form the basis of a social scene. “Sometimes, a whole cross-section of the city would be there,” he says. “Sometimes, there would be all old men there, singing to themselves. You could hear the music in their voices.”

Reykjavík, the cosmopolitan heart of a metropolitan area with a population of about 200,000, has a “vibrant café culture,” according to Krogh. “The coffee shops are always full of people. It’s a very walkable city with people oftentimes staying out all night and businesses staying open until 6 a.m. People walk from bar to bar to bar to hear different kinds of music. Even early in the morning you can hear the music.” With the near-constant midnight sun approaching, he observed one or two celebrations every week, frequently with hordes of people dressed up in costumes.

After answering the siren calls of an island more than 3,600 miles away, back in Olympia, Krogh felt empowered by his overseas experience and by making art that was connected not only to his surroundings but also to his inner life.